Homemade Little Debbie Star Crunch
I’m a Little Debbie freak. There’s not one version or variety that I don’t love.
And if you’ve never had a Star Crunch, you’ve been missing out. I told Scott these were a dead ringer for Star Crunch and he said, “What’s a Star Crunch?”
Oatmeal Creme Pies are probably the most widely known Little Debbie treat and I can polish off a box in record time. Super soft oatmeal cookies with filling that I wish I could authentically replicate at home. Nutty Bars are also a favorite, with their chocolate and peanut buttery flaky layers and delicate crunch. Cosmic Brownies are also a hit, which is my I love my go-to brownie recipe. They are some cosmic similarities.
Trying to describe Star Crunch for someone who’s never had them is hard. Theirsite describes them as, “A chewy cookie topped with caramel and crisp rice then covered in a layer of fudge.” Yes, but that sounds a bit underwhelming. I would describe them as what you’d get if you made Rice Krispies Treats with caramel rather than marshmallows, and packed it extremely tight so that the density level is off the charts. In many ways, the flavors remind me of a 100 Grand Bar. Crispy rice, caramel gooeyness, and milk chocolate. I love 100 Grand Bars, too. At least I’m consistent in my preferences.
I was surprised to see a notable absence of online recipes for homemade versions of Star Crunch. With Oatmeal Creme Pies, there’s an abundance of choices and recipes; almost too many and I’ve always wanted to make them, but was going into choices overload. The same thing happened when I wanted to make an at-home version of mall pretzels. So many options but I finally came up Soft Buttery One Hour Pretzels so there’s probably still hope for homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies one day.
I am so pleased with how the Star Crunch turned out. They’re remarkably similar to the real thing and no-bake. I’ll warn you that it’s lots of microwaving in short burst, stirring, reheating, stirring, repeating, but you can handle that. The first three ingredients won’t appear to want to melt or combine and you’ll be cursing me but just trust in the process and do your best to melt and combine ingredients. I don’t know if you could make the Star Crunch on the stovetop and prefer the microwave whenever possible.
Begin by melting one eleven-ounce bag of Kraft Caramel Bits. I didn’t want to unwrap eleven ounces of caramels one-by-one so used the Bits because they’re a huge timesaver. I once made these bars and unwrapped 30 caramels and vowed, never again. If your only option is to unwrap a bag of caramels, have fun. Don’t use caramel ice cream sauce, caramel topping, or anything that’s already in liquid form because it’s too thin and runny and won’t give authentic density in the finished bars.
I didn’t use Seven Minute Microwave Caramels because I wanted to use standardized ingredients. Plus, if I told you to make caramels before even starting this recipe, most people wouldn’t want to embark. So storebought caramels it is.
Place the caramel bits in a large microwave-safe bowl and melt them. Melt is a relative term; they don’t really melt, but they soften and turn the consistency of a thick, oily, pasty natural peanut peanut butter. Heat in short bursts so you don’t scorch the caramels, stirring and mashing them after each burst. It took about two minutes and four bursts for me.
To the soft caramels, add the butter, heat for a minute to melt the butter, and stir to incorporate. The butter won’t want to incorporate very well, and it’s a literal oil-and-water situation. Do your best to stir the butter into the caramels and it’s okay if it’s pooling.
Add two cups of mini marshmallows which is half of a standard bag, and heat to melt them. They can be tricky to melt, but heat in short bursts, thirty seconds at a time, for about two minutes, stopping to stir after each burst. As they’re heated, they’ll puff and swell rather than turn into a runny liquid, but finally they’ll become soft enough to smash down into something that’s on the runnier side.
Storebought Star Crunch don’t have marshmallows in them, but adding them was the only way I could achieve enough fluff and lightness without making the treats airy or dry. They also add proper density and chewiness. The finished treats don’t read of marshmallows at all. There’s not enough quantity used and they’re a behind-the-scenes workhorse to help create all the texture qualities I was looking, minus imparting any real flavor.
After the caramel, butter, and marshmallows are melted, or shall we say softened, add the Rice Krispies cereal, and stir to combine. Finally, the unsightly mess in the mixing bowl looks like something and it all combines with a few turns of a spoon. The scent is candy-like, buttery, and it’s a big, warm bowl of crunchy, gooey comfort.
In trialing the recipe I tried adding chocolate, both cocoa powder and melted chocolate to the mixture, because I know it’s pale and real Star Crunch are darker all the way through when you bite into them. Unfortunately, the mixture became either too dry (cocoa powder), or too gloppy (melted chocolate), and from a taste perspective, it’s spot on as-is. It’s just the color that’s blonde rather than brown. Blondes have more fun anyway.
Spray your hands with cooking spray and reach into the mixing bowl and form 11 equal-sized patties. Or twelve if you want them slightly smaller than shown or like an even dozen. The mixture is warm but not screaming hot and I had no issues forming patties. Think of them as little handwarmers on a cold winter day, full of butter to keep your skin soft. Place the discs on a baking tray or large plate and allow them to cool and set up for at least two hours, or overnight, before dipping them in chocolate.
Milk chocolate is the way to go for authenticity and I used one bag of milk chocolate chips, twelve ounces. I heated half in the microwave with shortening, dipped half the discs; then finished the project by heating the remaining half. When working with melted chocolate and dipping projects, working in smaller batches proves easier so the chocolate doesn’t start setting up and getting gloppy and hard to work with.
I strongly recommend adding a tablespoon or two of vegetable shortening (Crisco) when melting the chocolate. As I described in my Homemade Thin Mints post, it does wonders for helping the chocolate stay smoother and makes dipping much, much easier. You don’t have to go out and buy shortening for this, and in general, I don’t like shortening. I always swap butter for shortening, even in recipes where it says to use shortening, but for dipping projects shortening is a huge help. I have don’t if candy melts or other specialty chocolate will work or how they will effect taste.
Dip the discs, one by one, into the chocolate bath. I balance them with two forks, so the excess chocolate can drain off through the fork tines. Let the chocolate drain off well over the bowl before placing the disc on a parchment-lined baking sheet or large tray, otherwise you’ll waste lots of chocolate to the parchment paper. If you used shortening, placing tray in the refrigerator to set up will help speed things along. The beauty of shortening while dipping is that it keeps the chocolate looser and resistant to setting up; but when you want it to set up, you have to either be incredibly patient with room temperature air, or just use the fridge.
They’re everything I hoped to achieve. The flavor is right on with the buttery caramel, crispy rice cereal, and milk chocolate. They’re incredibly dense and chewy. My almost-six year old with two loose front teeth has a hard time chomping into these but I have no problem sinking my teeth into these dense, sweet, buttery little treats. They remind me of my favorite Rice Krispies Treats, which are dense, thick, chewy, and not at all airy or loose. But the Star Crunch have caramel and Rice Krispies Treats don’t, and I do love caramel.
As an adult, I tend to prefer dark chocolate, but the milk chocolate coating takes me back to being a kid and devouring these things by the box.
- one 11-ounce bag Kraft Caramel Bits (or 11 ounces caramels)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (half of one stick)
- 2 cups mini-marshmallows (half of one standard 10-ounce bag)
- 4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
- one 12-ounce bag (2 cups) milk chocolate chips, melted for dipping
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, optional but highly recommended
- Line a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or parchment paper, set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, add the caramel bits (already unwrapped and convenient; or use regular caramels, probably 30 to 40+ unwrapped; don't use caramel ice cream sauce because it's too thin) and microwave on high power to soften and melt, about 2 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to check and stir. The caramels don't melt into a smooth, thin sauce like caramel ice cream sauce; instead they're the consistency of natural peanut butter that's a bit loose and oily. As long as they're softened and somewhat melted, that's fine.
- Add the butter to the caramels, and heat on high power to melt the butter, about 1 minute. Stir the butter and caramel together to combine; the butter will pool and may be difficult to incorporate and it's okay if there's some pooling.
- Add the marshmallows and heat to melt them, about 2 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to check and stir to combine. Marshmallows will swell and puff and after about 2 minutes of intermittent heating, they should be sufficiently soft enough to stir into the butter-caramel mixture. Quickly and briefly fold to combine. While the mixture is still nice and hot, add the cereal and stir to combine, mixture will cool down and firm up quickly.
- Spray your hands with cooking spray or grease them with butter and form 3-inch diameter discs that are about 1-inch tall (I made 11). The batter will be warm but cool enough to handle easily; if yours is too warm, wait until it cools sufficiently to handle it to shape the discs. Place discs on prepared baking sheet sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and allow them to firm up for at least 2 hours, or overnight, before dipping them in chocolate.
- In a large microwave-safe bowl, add the chocolate and shortening (helps chocolate stay much smoother and for a longer period and highly recommend), and heat on high power to melt, about 1 minute. Heat in 15-second bursts, stopping to check and stir after each, until chocolate can be stirred smooth. Note - I find it easier and more convenient to melt half chocolate and shortening now, and after it's been used, heat the remainder; that way chocolate stays warm, smooth, and easier to work with. Dip discs into chocolate one by one, and let chocolate drain off over the bowl, before retuning coated discs to a parchment-lined tray. I find it easiest to balance the discs with two forks, that way the chocolate can drain off through the tines.
- Allow treats to set up and cool in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (the shortening will be resistant to setting up at room temperature). After chocolate has set, treats can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Nutter Butter Special K Bars (No-Bake) – Nutter Butter Cookies, peanut butter, and Special K are bound with a buttery caramel sauce with a melted chocolate topping
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Marshmallow Stuffed Rice Krispie Bars (No-Bake, Gluten-Free, with Vegan options)
Double Chocolate Caramel Corn & Cocoa Rice Krispies Candy Bars (No-Bake with Vegan & GF options) – A versatile recipe designed to use up odds and ends in your pantry when you don’t have a full bag of anything left. Customize it based on what you have
Special K Bars (No-Bake) – My grandma’s recipe and one of my favorite cereal bars, ever. Caramely, buttery, crunchy and chewy, topped with chocolate. Simple and easy, but fabulous
Browned Butter Rice Krispies Treats (no-bake with vegan and GF options) – I am a cereal bar and Rice Krispies Bar fanatic. These are the best RKTreats I’ve ever had or made
Caramel and Chocolate Gooey Bars (GF with Vegan adaptation) – Dense, rich, very chocolate, caramely, and easy
Butterfinger Bars (No-Bake, with Vegan & GF options) – Eerily similar to the real thing and can be made in 5 minutes in the microwave
Ritz Cracker Stuffed Peanut Butter Cups (No-Bake, Vegan) – There’s no wrong way to stuff a homemade peanut butter cup
Do you like Star Crunch? Little Debbie or Hostess products?
Tell me about your all-time favorites and what you love.
Ever made or recreated a favorite storebought treat at home? Or wanted to try your hand at something?
I’ve made tons, from Butterfingers to Peanut Butter Cups, and Outback Steakhouse Wheat Bread (vegan) to Starbucks-inspired Cranberry Bliss Bars. There’s something fun and rewarding about seeing how close I can get to the real thing at home. Because I like to reinvent the wheel and all.